Centre Furnace Mansion
Centre Furnace Mansion (1001 East College Avenue) was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1978. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document.  Adaptation copyright © 2008, The Gombach Group.
Centre Furnace Mansion is the home of the Centre County Historical Society [Aug. 2008]
The Centre Furnace Mansion was originally built as a Georgian style, five bay, 2 1/2 story dwelling. The original plan was center hall four-over-four. The main block of the house would appear to date c.1830. The brickwork features Flemish bond on the front and common bond on the rear and sides. The windows are headed with flat arches delineated with bricks set on end. The sash windows are four-over-four on the front facade The first floor windows have paneled shutters, the second floor windows have louvered shutters, a traditional Georgian arrangement.
The mansion occupies a hillside site, thus the basement is exposed on three sides. The cut stone front wall of the basement is opened by two shuttered windows. The basement's west wall is opened with two small windows and a double door. The east wall has a single door and one small window. The interior of the basement has a large cooking fireplace occupying the center of the eastern wall.
The brick kitchen wing, also two and one-half stories, dates from perhaps c.1835. Extending from the rear north-east corner of the house, the end wall of the wing is laid in Flemish bond with the sides in common bond.
As architectural styles changed to Victorian taste, so did the character of the Centre Furnace Mansion. Although the home still retains the charm of the simple Georgian five-bay arrangement, plan, fenestration and proportions, most of the details and interior appointments were changed to Victorian style. The only original interior Georgian details left are wooden mantelpieces in the eastern parlors of the main block, doors and early staircase in the kitchen wing, and some trim. The Victorian changes that overshadow the original Georgian details appear to date from 1865-70. These include twin gables added to the facade, each lighted with a round-headed window; three bay arcaded and bracketed Italianate porch substituted at the main entrance with lattice-work on the basement level; bold Victorian bracketed entablature encircling the building; replacement of original mantles in the western parlors with Victorian marbleized slate mantles.
Other Victorian changes dating to this time or slightly later include a Victorian doorway inserted for the main entrance (mullioned treatment with tiny panes is twentieth century), first floor facade windows elongated to floor level and central second floor facade window converted to doors leading to balcony; on the interior, replacement of railing and balusters with stocky Victorian elements.
Plans of the Mansion, drawn in 1977 for the Centre County Historical Society were submitted at the time of this writing. The Historical Society was preparing portions of the Mansion for apartment rental. Eventually part of the house was to be used for Historic Society office space and museum collections. The ironmaster's stately home built in the Georgian style and enhanced with Victorian additions is a fitting place for the artifacts of Centre County to be preserved.
The house stands on a 2.4 acre tract of land owned by the Centre County Historical Society. The deed is recorded in Centre County Deed book 375 page 592.
The outbuildings in close proximity to the mansion, stand on a 1.12 acre tract of land owned by Mr. W.E. Esber of State College. These buildings are in good shape and provide continuity in the historic landscape. Two of the outbuildings, standing close together, are square wooden structures covered in weatherboard, with thin vertical strips on the corners. The roofs are pent, and are covered with asphalt strips. The third building is rectangular and covered in the same fashion, and roofed with a simple gable roof. The outbuildings are sited on the northern side of the house adjacent to the kitchen wing.
The Centre Furnace stack is a discontiguous element from the rest of the property. The stack is located near the Benner Pike. The furnace stack is a truncated pyramid of stone dating to 1874. The earlier furnace had begun to malfunction and the decision was made to replace it with a new stack, outfitted for hot-blast operation. In 1922 a plaque was placed on the by then partially ruined furnace stack by the Pennsylvania State College and the Pennsylvania State Museum. Then in 1963 the stack was restored through the cooperative efforts of the Pennsylvania State University, The Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission and Rockview State Correctional Institute. The stack stands partly on P.S.U. property and partly on a highway right-of-way (PA Rt. 26).
Although the Centre Furnace site once possessed all the physical attributes of a thriving plantation community, the sense of complete historic environment is no longer present. The relocation of the State College-Bellefonte road in 1922 contributed significantly to the demise of the historic atmosphere. At this time a large stone horse barn was torn down and the roadside property was developed for modern use (with the construction of a public swimming pool and dance pavilion). In 1959 the present four lane Benner Pike was constructed, effectively restricting the historic atmosphere to the individual elements, the Mansion and the furnace stack.
The Mansion and the outhouses present a picture of Mansion living throughout the nineteenth century. The architectural changes in the Mansion reflect the changing architectural styles during the nineteenth century. The furnace stack, although not part of the historic environment of the mansion stands in a prominent place as an important visual reminder of the past industry of Centre County.
The significance of Centre Furnace is best understood with regard to the key role it played in the development of the iron industry in Centre County. Established in 1792, it was the County's first iron works. Out of the leading role the founders of Centre Furnace played in the development of the county grew an influence on other aspects of Centre County's history. In commerce, Centre County's economy was boosted by the output from Centre Furnace. In politics, the prosperity and renown of Centre Furnace prior to 1800 may have played an important role in the naming and founding of the County (in 1800). In economics, the long reaching view of the Centre Furnace founders aided the growth of Centre County, as well as that of the state of Pennsylvania. In settlement, Centre Furnace provided a secure economic nucleus for settlers.
The iron industry engaged the men of exceptional wealth, enterprise and social prominence who aided in the improvement of Centre County. Centre Furnace was the site of many important social gatherings and decisions, decisions that made Centre County what it is today. Finally Gen. James Irvin who held interest in Centre Furnace, donated Centre Furnace land for the purpose of founding a Farmer's High School of Pennsylvania (now the Pennsylvania State University).
The importance of Centre Furnace is reflected in the architecture of the mansion. The building belongs to a locally distinguished class of architecture; the iron masters residences. The Georgian format is a classic one, which still retains its charm after 1 1/2 centuries. The Victorian additions were concessions to changing times and came out of a desire to keep the house fashionable. The historical associations and architectural qualities of the Centre Furnace Mansion complex (Mansion, Furnace Stack and outbuildings) point out important facets of the county's early history.